The 87th annual Oscars were another freakish mixture of preachy politics, vulgar humor and fading if lustrous glamour. It rained at Hollywood and Highland and the Academy Awards ceremony reflected the dreary fact with a master of ceremonies who made jokes at winners’ expense, including jokes about a filmmaker whose award for a crisis hotline movie was dedicated to her late suicidal son and a documentary about Edward Snowden, whom the host implied is guilty of “treason”. The host, deadpanning Neil Patrick Harris, also made several racist jokes, though these were told with an apparently deliberate attempt to induce guilt among white people, so it was expected to be acceptable.
The unearned guilt trip came on strong, too, in the Best Song category, which featured a rap song from the lackluster Selma by rapper Common and John Legend, who made political speeches when they won after a performance that all but repeated their routine at the Grammys. This after the white host chose an Academy Award-winning black actress, Octavia Spencer (Snowpiercer, Black or White) for a subservient role during the entire show, played for laughs, and mispronounced the name of the lead actor from last year’s Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave. But the race-based humor and mistakes are all supposed to be forgiven and forgotten because the snide, pandering host kept admonishing the Academy for not nominating the mediocre Selma more often. Harris also mocked the Best Picture winner Birdman by coming out in his underpants in a new low, even for the Oscars.
Harris had started off the show with a good song and dance number honoring moving pictures, which was well performed with help from Jack Black, Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods) and visual effects that set the right tone with clever shadows that evoked Hollywood’s Golden Age. But left-wing politics quickly intruded once again as Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette told the audience of the world’s richest women, including powerful billionaire movie producer Oprah Winfrey (The Hundred-Foot Journey) that women aren’t paid enough and don’t have “equal rights”. The way these wealthy show business people preached, one would think that blacks and women don’t have rights in America.
Those who defend rights, soldiers and war veterans, went unmentioned on stage, though American Sniper producer and Best Actor nominee Bradley Cooper recognized them on the red carpet to his credit and so did a few others. Some Hollywood women were simply ignored like the war vets. Among those forgotten in the Academy Awards ceremony were comedienne and red carpet fashion commentator Joan Rivers, despite the inclusion of a film critic few remember and other questionable choices. Joan Rivers was not the only Republican left out of Oscar’s memorial segment; film noir actress Lizabeth Scott, who starred in 22 films, was also dismissed. While Ida won Best Foreign Movie, Whiplash won a few times and what I think is 2014’s best picture, American Sniper, won an Oscar, some of last year’s best movies were not nominated, including St. Vincent, Black or White and A Long Way Down.
Reminding everyone in the audience at Hollywood Boulevard’s Dolby Theatre, a block from Oscar’s first venue, The Roosevelt Hotel, and the billion people watching around the world what really matters fell to the evening’s oddest couple and most elegant, talented and glamorous pair: Julie Andrews and Lady Gaga, honoring a truly great, serious and musical motion picture, The Sound of Music (1965). This is a movie about ideas, family and uniting against evil by bonding based on what one loves.
In paying tribute to its 50th anniversary, Lady Gaga erased the previous segment’s unearned guilt and captivated the audience with a breathtaking display of ability with a beautiful medley of songs from the film. She commanded the hall in her superior voice singing tunes by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for a magnificent movie about escaping from total government control of one’s life, work and music. She was followed by a clearly moved Julie Andrews, who spoke with eloquence and reverence for Oscar’s winner for 1965’s Best Picture. Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews delivered a momentary glimpse of ability and glamour, which lasted no longer than a few minutes. Yet it offered an unforgettable contrast in what it means to achieve in one voice true movie musical glory.